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If Cope came back from Freeford with the moral support of one family, Amy Leffingwell came back from Fort Lodge with the moral support of another. Hers was a fragmental family, true; but its sentiment was unanimous; she had the combined support of a pleased mother and of an enthusiastic maiden aunt.
Amy reached Churchton first, and it soon transpired through the house in which she lived that she was engaged to Bertram Cope. Cope, returning two days later, with Lemoyne, found his new status an open book to the world-- or to such a small corner of the world as cared to read.
Cope had written from Freeford, explaining to Randolph the broken dinner- engagement: at least he had said that immediate concerns of importance had driven the date from his mind, and that he was sorry. Randolph, only too willing to accept any fair excuse, good-naturedly made this one serve: the boy was not so negligent and ungrateful, after all. He got the rest of the story a few days later, in a message from Foster. What was the boy, then? he asked himself. He recalled their talk as they had walked past the sand-hills on that October Sunday. Cope had disclaimed all inclination for matrimony. He had confessed a certain inability to safeguard himself. Was he a victim, after all? A victim to his own ineptitude? A victim to his own highmindedness? Well, whatever the alternative, a field for the work of the salvage-corps had opened.
At the big house on Ashburn Avenue a like feeling had come to prevail. Medora Phillips herself had passed from the indulgently satirical to the impatient, and almost to the indignant. Her niece thought the new relation clearly superfluous. She put away the portrait in oil, but she rather hoped to resume work on it, some time. Meanwhile, she was far from kind to Amy.
Cope soon made an obligatory appearance at the house. He was glad enough to have the presence and the support of Arthur Lemoyne. The call came on a rigorous evening at the beginning of the second week in January. The two young men had about brought their new quarters to shape and subjection. They had spent two or three evenings in shifting and rearranging things-- trifling purchases in person and larger things sent by express. They had reached a good degree of snugness and comfort; but----
"We've got to go tonight!" said Cope firmly.
"Tonight?" repeated Lemoyne. "Unless I'm mistaken, we're in for a deuce of a time." He snuggled again into the big easy chair that had just arrived from Winnebago.
"We are!" returned Cope, with unhappy mien. "But it's got to be gone through with."
"I'm talking about the weather," rejoined Lemoyne plumply. He was versed in the reading of signs as they presented themselves a hundred and fifty miles to the north, and he thought he could accurately apply his experience to a locale somewhat beyond his earlier ken. The vast open welter of water to the east would but give the roaring north wind a greater impetus. "We're going to have tonight, the storm of the season."
"Storm or no storm, I can't put it off any longer. I've got to go."
As they started out the wind was keen, and a few fine flakes, driven from the north, flew athwart their faces. When they reached Mrs. Phillips' house, Peter, wrapped in furs, was sitting in the limousine by the curb, and two or three people were seen in the open door of the vestibule.
"Well, the best of luck, cher Professeur," Cope heard the voice of Mrs. Phillips saying, in a quick expulsion of syllables. "This is going to be a bad night, I'm afraid; but I hope your audience will get to the hall to hear you, and that our Pierre will be able to get you back to us."
"Oh, Madame," returned the plump little man, "what a climate!" And he ran down the walk to the car.
Yes, Mrs. Phillips had another celebrity on her hands. It was an eminent French historian who was going across to the campus to deliver the second lecture of his course. "How lucky," she had said to Hortense, just after dinner, "that we went to hear him last night!" Their visitor was handsomely accommodated--and suitably, too, she felt--in the Louis Quinze chamber, and he was expected back in it a little after ten.
"Why, Bertram Cope!" she exclaimed, as the two young men came up the walk while the great historian ran down; "come in, come in; don't let me stand here freezing!"
It turned out to be a young man's night. Mrs. Phillips had invited a few "types" to entertain and instruct her Frenchman. They had come to dinner, and they had stayed on afterward.
Among them was the autumn undergraduate whom Cope, at an earlier day, had disdainfully called "Phaon," a youth of twenty. "You know," said Medora Phillips to Randolph, a few days later, when reviewing the stay of her newest guest, "Those sophisticated, world-worn people so appreciate our fresh, innocent, ingenuous boys. M. Pelouse told me, on leaving, that Roddy quite met his ideal of the young American. So open-faced, so inexperienced, so out of the great world...."
"Good heavens!" said Randolph impatiently. "Do they constitute the world? You might think so,--going about giving us awards, and hanging medals on us, and certifying how well we speak French! Fudge! The world is changing. It would be better," he added, "if more of us--college students included-- learned how to speak a decenter English. I went to their dramatic club the other evening. Such pronunciation! Such delivery! I almost longed for the films."
A second "young American" was present--George F. Pearson. Pearson lived with his parents in another big house a block down the street. Mrs. Phillips had summoned him as a type that was purely indigenous--the "young American business man." Pearson had just made a "kill," as he called it--a coup executed quite without the aid of his father, and he was too full of his success to keep still; he was more typical than ever. The Professor had looked at him in staring wonder. So had Amy Leffingwell--in the absence of another target for her large, intent eyes.
But Medora Phillips knew all about George and Roddy. The novelty was Lemoyne, and she must learn about him. She readily seized the points that composed his personal aspect, which she found good: his general darkness and richness made him a fine foil for Cope. She quickly credited him with a pretty complete battery of artistic aptitudes and apprehensions. She felt certain that he would appreciate her ballroom and picture-gallery, and would figure well within it. The company was young, the night was wild, and cheer was the word. She presently led the way upstairs. Foster, as soon as he heard the first voices in the hall and the first footfalls on the bare treads of the upper stairs, shut his door.
Lemoyne felt the big bare room--bare save for a piano and a fringe of chairs and settles, large and small--as a stage; and he surmised that he, the new-comer, was expected to exhibit himself on it. He became consciously the actor. He tried now the assertive note, and now the quiet note; somehow the quiet was the louder of the two. Pearson, who was in a conquering mood tonight, scented a rival in the general attention, and one not wholly unworthy. Pearson was the only one of the four in evening dress, and he felt that to be an advantage. He, at least, had been properly attired to meet the elegant visitor from abroad. As for poor Roddy, he had come in an ordinary sack: perhaps it was partly this which had prompted M. Pelouse (who was of course dressed for the platform) to find the boy such a paragon of simple innocence.
All costumes were alike to Lemoyne; he had appeared in dozens. If he lacked costume now, he made it up in manner. He had bestowed an immensity of manner on Amy Leffingwell, downstairs: his cue had been a high, delicate, remote gravity. "I know, I know," he seemed to say; "and I make no comment." Upstairs he kept close by Cope: he was proprietary; he was protective. If Cope settled down in a large chair, Lemoyne would drape himself over the arm of it; and his hand would fall, as like as not, on the back of the chair, or even on Cope's shoulder. And when he came to occupy the piano-stool, Cope, standing alongside, would lay a hand on his. Mrs. Phillips noticed these minor familiarities and remarked on them to Foster, who had lately wheeled his chair in. Foster, a few days later, passed the comment on to Randolph, with an astringent comment of his own.--At all events, Amy Leffingwell remained in the distance, and George Pearson shared the distance with her.
Foster had broken from his retirement on hearing the voices of Cope and Lemoyne combined in song. The song was "Larboard Watch," and he remembered how his half-brother had sung in it during courtship, with the young fellow who had acted, later, as his best man. Lemoyne, at the first word of invitation, had seated himself at the instrument--a lesser than the "grand" downstairs, but not unworthy; then, with but a measure or so of prelude, the two voices had begun to ring out in the old nautical ballad. Lemoyne felt the composition to be primitive, antiquated and of slight value; but he had received his cue, and both his throat and his hands wrought with an elaborate expressiveness. He sang and played, if not with sincerity, at least with effect. His voice was a high, ringing tenor; not too ringing for Cope's resonant baritone, but almost too sweet: a voice which might cloy (if used alone) within a few moments. Cope was a perfect second, and the two went at it with a complete unity of understanding and of sentiment. Together they viewed--in thirds--"the gath'ring clouds"; together--still in thirds--they roused themselves "at the welcome call" of "Larboard watch, ahoy!" Disregarding the mere words, they attained, at the finish, to something like feeling--or even like a touch of passion. Medora Phillips had never heard Cope sing like that before; had never seen so much animation in his singing face. By the fourth bar there had been tears in her eyes, and there was a catch in her breath when she exclaimed softly, "You dear boys!" It was too soon, of course, to make Lemoyne "dear"--the one boy was Cope. It was really his voice which she had heard through the soaring, insinuating tones of the other. Foster, sitting beside her, suddenly raised his shade and peered out questioningly, both at the singers and at his sister-in-law. He seemed surprised--and more.
Pearson was surprised too, but kept his applause within limits. However, he praised Lemoyne for his accompaniment. Then he begged Amy for an air on the violin; and while they were determining who should play her accompaniment, the wind raged more wildly round the gables and the thickening snow drove with a fiercer impetus against the windows.
Lemoyne (who was a perfectly good sight-reader) begged that he might not be condemned to spoil another's performance. This was the result of an understanding between Cope and himself that neither was to contribute further. Presently a simple piece was selected through which the unskilled Carolyn might be trusted to pick her way. Cope listened with a decorous attention which was designed to indicate the highest degree of sympathetic interest; but his attitude, so finely composed within, yet so ineffectively displayed without, was as nothing to the loud promptness of Pearson's praise. Amy glanced at Cope with questioning surprise; but she met Pearson's excesses of commendation with a gratified smile.
Shortly before ten o'clock there was a stir at the front door. Mrs. Phillips rose hastily. "It is M. Pelouse; let me go down and pet him."
Yes, it was M. Pelouse. "Oh, Madame!" he said, as before, but with an expressiveness doubly charged, "what a climate!" He was panting and was covered with fine snow. Behind him was Peter, looking very grave and dour.
"Shall I be wanted further?" asked Peter in a tense tone, and with no trace of his usual good-natured smile.
"What! Again?" cried Mrs. Phillips, while Helga, farther up the hall, was undoing the Professor; "three times on a night like this? No, indeed! Get back into the garage as fast as you can."
"Oh, Madame!" said the Professor, now out of his wrappings and in better control of his voice. "They were so faithful to our beautiful France! The salle was almost full!"
"Well," said Mrs. Phillips to herself, "they got there all right, then. I hope most of them will get back home alive!"
"What a climate!" M. Pelouse was still saying, as he entered the ball-room. He had not been there before. He ran an appraising eye over the pictures and said little. But as soon as he learned that some of them were the work of the late M. Phillips he found words. He led the company through a tasteful jungle of verbosity, and left the ultimate impression that Monsieur had been a remarkable man, whether as artist or as collector.
Yet he did not forget to say once more, "What a climate!"
"Is it really bad outside?" asked Pearson. M. Pelouse shrugged his shoulders. It was affreux.
"It is indeed," corroborated Mrs. Phillips: she had spent her moment at the front door. "Nobody that I can find room for leaves my house tonight." This meant that Cope and Lemoyne were to occupy the chintz chamber.
M. Pelouse gradually regained himself. Cope interested him. Cope was, in type, the more "American" of the two new arrivals. He was also, as M. Pelouse had heard, the pretendant,--yes, the fiance. Well, he was calm and inexpressive enough: no close and eager attendance; cool, cool. "How interesting," said the observer to himself. "And Mademoiselle, quite across the room, and quite taken up"--happily, too, it seemed--"with another man: with the other man, perhaps?..."
At half past ten Pearson rose to leave; Cope and Lemoyne rose at the same time. "No," said Mrs. Phillips, stopping them both; "you mustn't think of trying to go. I can't ask Peter to take you, and you could never get across on foot in the world. I can find a place for you."
"And about poor Roddy?" asked Hortense.
"Roddy may stay with me," declared Pearson. "I can put him up. Come on, Aldridge," he said; "you're good for a hundred yard dash." And down they started.
"I don't want to stay," muttered Cope to Lemoyne, under cover of the others' departure. "Devil take it; it's the last thing in the world I want to do!"
"It's awkward," returned Lemoyne, "but we're in for it. After all, it isn't her house, nor her family's. Besides, you've got me."
Mrs. Phillips summoned Helga and another maid, who were just on the point of going to bed, and directed their efforts toward the chintz chamber. "Ah, well," thought M. Pelouse, "the fiance, then, is going to remain over night in the house of his fiancee!" It was droll; yet there were extenuating circumstances. But--such a singular climate, such curious temperaments, such a general chill! And M. Pelouse was presently lost to view among the welcome trappings of Louis Quinze.
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